Home  »  Volume II: English THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES  »  § 5. Henry Bradshaw

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

VIII. The English Chaucerians

§ 5. Henry Bradshaw

To the same rime royal division—as a later member of it, but still partly before 1500—belongs Henry Bradshaw, a monk of St. Werburgh’s abbey at Chester (his native place), who has left a large life of his patroness, extending to those of Etheldreda and Sexburga, and a good deal of profane history of Chester and Mercia at large. It thus has a variety and quality of subject contrasting favourably with the didactic monotony of the works just mentioned; and it is not specially unreadable so far as treatment is concerned, while students of literary history will be interested to find the author, paying the invariable compliment to Chaucer and Lydgate, omits Gower, but substitutes his own contemporaries,

  • To pregnant Barclay now being religious,
  • To inventive Skelton and poet-laureate.
  • Bradshaw died in 1513: and his poem was printed by Pynson eight years later. In prosody it is one of the most remarkable documents as to the complete loss of grip which had come upon English verse. It has been charitably suggested that, in place of Chaucerian decasyllable, Bradshaw retains the “old popular long line,” whatever that may be. To which it can only be replied that if he did not mean decasyllables he constantly stumbles into them; and that, elsewhere, his lines are neither like those of Robert of Gloucester, nor like those of Gamelyn, but frank pieces of prose rimed at the end and cut anyhow to a length which is, perhaps, on the average, nearer to that of an alexandrine than to any other standard, but almost rhythmless. If he is not quite so shambling as some of his predecessors and contemporaries, he is, throughout, steadily pedestrian. His verse, perhaps as well as anything else, makes us understand the wrath of the next generation with “beggarly balducktoom riming.”

    A still more noteworthy set of instances of the all-powerful attraction of rime royal, and a curious and not uninteresting section of the followers of Chaucer, is provided by the fifteenth century writers in verse on alchemy. This following is of substance, as well as in forms, as the mention of The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is sufficient to show. And there is the further noteworthy point that each of the two chief of these writers follows one of Chaucer’s main narrative measures, the couplet and rime royal.